HILARY JAMES – English Sketches – Acoustics Records CDACS 059

“Pastoral” is the word that first comes to mind when discussing Hilary James’ new album. In fact, ‘A Song & Jig For Good Measure’ which appears in three versions, could provide the soundtrack for a Shakespeare play were the RSC not currently using Elvis hits. The fact that Hilary and Simon Mayor wrote the music and the words came from Sabine Baring-Gould in no way invalidates this.

The record isn’t all shepherds and milkmaids, however. ‘The Two Ravens’, with music by Hilary and Simon marries grisly subject matter with a pretty tune and the beautiful ‘Bredon Hill’ hides a dark secret, for death was never far away from A E Housman’s mind. ‘Young Benjie’ doesn’t even try to hide its gruesome truth.

Other words come from William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and John Gay. Elsewhere, Hilary lifts ‘The Bold Fisherman’, which can be a dreadful plodder, with a few grace notes and reintroduces us to ‘The Bell Ringing Song’, a delightfully bucolic piece which has fallen out of favour in recent years.

The band includes Simon Mayor, Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson with Nick Cooper on cello, Phil Fentiman on double bass and Simon Price on drums – a line-up that can be as powerful as you could wish. “Pastoral”, yes, but the net curtains are twitching in the village.

Dai Jeffries

Artist Web-link: www.acousticsrecords.co.uk